Screen grab of a fight at a polling station in the Russian city of Khimki, just northwest of the capital, Moscow.
Russia has failed to shake its reputation for electoral fraud after regional elections over the weekend were marred by widespread allegations of vote rigging and irregularities.
Despite remarkably low voter turnout, President Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party dominated the country’s first major elections since he retook the presidency in May, sweeping gubernatorial, mayoral and regional legislative votes across the country.
Opposition groups quickly stepped forward to challenge the results, alleging widespread voter fraud – a recurrent issue in Russia over the past year. Demonstrations to demand free and fair elections first erupted in December, 2011, following the country’s parliamentary elections, which were largely criticised as skewed in favour of United Russia. As the protests grew in size and scale, authorities sought to stem mounting discontent by introducing a string of electoral reforms, including legislation simplifying the procedure for opposition parties registering their candidates on ballots.
Despite the reforms, there were reports that opposition candidates had been disqualified at the last minute for making “unrealistic [campaign] promises”, in addition to allegations of ballot-stuffing and other irregularities during the October 14 poll.
The election attracted few voters, with turnout falling below 8 percent in some regions.
“Intimidation and physical aggression are used as threats against election observers and even candidates”
Oleg Kozyrev is a writer and pro-democracy activist. He also works as an aid to opposition figure Yevgenia Chirikova, who ran for mayor in the city of Khimki, just northwest of the capital, Moscow. While touring polling stations in Khimki, Kozyrev captured footage of alleged voter fraud.
I filmed the footage in the city of Khimki, at voting station 3008. We (Chirikova and her supporters) decided to go the morning of the election because we had received a phone call the night before saying that the number of registered voters at the station had suddenly increased by 200 people.When we got there, the election committee refused to let observers from Chirikova’s party see the list of registered voters. When we did eventually get to see the documents we saw that the first page was numbered 62, and the first voter at the top of the list was registered under the number 1112. These details made us suspicious that the committee had planned to add fictitious voters at the beginning of the list.Chirikova arrives with a group of supporters at the polling station on the morning of the vote. An election monitor from Chirikova's party explains that he requested to see the list of registered voters earlier, and that his request had been refused. Faced with an election commission official, Chirikova and one of her supporters again ask to see the voter list. Before complying, the election commission official tells them 'no' repeatedly, saying he had already showed them the list.Later on, in the evening, we returned to the polling station after hearing that some of our observers were being intimidated. It was about 8pm and all the polling stations were closed. We couldn’t get inside of the building, but we could see through the glass doors. The election committee chairman was trying to exit the polling station with some of the ballots, which, according to the law, are not supposed to leave the building. Some of the election observers tried to stop him, when a strange group of men in plain clothes arrived and began giving orders to the policemen stationed at the polling station. They then scuffled with the observers, throwing them to the ground. There are three videos from three different vantage points of what happened – ours, one filmed by an election observer and another that was captured by video surveillance.Observers scuffle with police forces after the election commission official allegedly tries to leave the building with a stack of ballots in hand. An election commission official can be seen holding up a pile of papers at 0'30.“The authorities are out of control”We called the police, who arrived with the head of the Moscow regional election committee, but they didn’t do anything to keep the local election committee chairman from leaving the building with the ballots in hand. Instead, they forced all 19 observers to leave the polling station. Only three were later given permission to return.I have mixed feelings about the vote. On the positive side of things, there are more observers now than there were during previous elections, and it seems as though voting procedures are better informed and more efficient. The bad thing, however, is that the authorities are out of control. Election monitors have been attacked by groups of people who look like thugs. Intimidation and even physical aggression are used as threats against observers and even candidates. We visited around 17 different polling stations where we saw every possible kind of election violation. In my opinion, voter fraud was even more rampant during this election than it has been in the past. Another thing that was disappointing about this election was the low turnout, but then again, how can you expect people to go to the polls when they know that the vote will be falsified?